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ESPN ranks Peyton Manning No. 3, Tom Brady No. 20 in its Top 20 athletes list

Michael David Smith

ESPN needs something to fill a slow time in its programming schedule, so it decided to come out with a list of the 20 most dominant athletes of the last 20 years. That list includes two football players: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Most football fans will agree with Manning and Brady both making the list of the Top 20 athletes of the last 20 years, but the ranking will seem off: Manning is No. 3. Brady is No. 20.

Why is Brady, who has played in an NFL-record eight Super Bowls, won an NFL-record five Super Bowl rings, and won an NFL-record four Super Bowl MVP awards, all the way down at No. 20? Because ESPN says the playoffs can’t be included in these completely subjective rankings.

Seriously. We’re ranking the 20 best athletes of the last 20 years, but we’re going to just pretend that postseason performances don’t matter. Because who really cares about the playoffs, anyway?

ESPN’s reason for this is preposterous: “In evaluating players, we considered regular-season stats only, since there’s no good way to compare playoffs across sports.”

There’s no good way to compare playoffs across sports? Sure there is! You could compare how many championships each player has won. Baseball player Mike Trout is No. 18 on the list — ahead of Brady — even though Trout has never played in a World Series. Here’s a good way to compare playoffs across sports: You take Brady’s record of eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl wins, and you say that’s better than Trout’s record of zero World Series appearances and zero wins.

Is that completely fair to either Brady or Trout? No, it isn’t. Football and baseball are team sports. But guess what? This is all just an exercise in silliness anyway. Just take a look at the full ESPN list:

1-Tiger Woods
2-Lebron James
3-Peyton Manning
4-Jimmie Johnson
5-Roger Federer
6-Annika Sorenstam
7-Michael Shumacher
8-Floyd Mayweather
10-Usain Bolt
11-Lionel Messi
12-Serena Williams
13-Lauren Jackson
14-Cristiano Ronaldo
15-Novak Djokovic
16-Allyson Felix
17-Barry Bonds
18-Mike Trout
19-Manny Pacquiao
20-Tom Brady

That list features one male golfer, one male basketball player, two football players, one NASCAR driver, two male tennis players, one female golfer, one Formula One driver, two boxers, one male sprinter, one female soccer player, two male soccer players, one female tennis player, one female basketball player, one female sprinter and two baseball players. How exactly is it that you can find a way to compare a golfer to a basketball player, a NASCAR driver to a tennis player, a boxer to a sprinter, and men to women, but you can’t figure out a way to compare playoffs to the regular season?

The list is, laughably, missing the most dominant Olympian ever, Michael Phelps, which ESPN blames on “the data.” What data determined that the swimmer who won 23 gold medals isn’t one of the 20 most dominant athletes of the last 20 years? ESPN doesn’t say. Just trust them. It’s “the data.” And “the data” cannot be questioned.

Why didn’t any hockey players make the list? Who knows. Why two boxers but no MMA fighters? It’s anyone’s guess. Why two sprinters but no jumpers, throwers or distance runners? Honestly, who cares.

Maybe we’d all just be better off ignoring these exercises in attention-seeking. But sometimes a little mockery is in order. And when you’re trying to compare Tom Brady to Annika Sorenstam but arbitrarily deciding not to include Brady’s Super Bowl performances, you deserve to be mocked.